The Softening Of A Sharp-Edged CUV
If you had asked us back in 2006 if the then-brand-new Acura RDX would be a success, our answer would have been yes. And why not? The Acura brand was still in demand, buyers were increasingly clamoring for luxury crossovers and the economy appeared to be in solid shape. And don't forget that the RDX was seemingly ahead of its time, pairing together a turbocharger and inline four-cylinder engine before it became de rigueur among engine choices.
If you had asked us that question six years ago, we would've been dead wrong, because the RDX proved to be anything but a sure bet. The compact luxury crossover stumbled along with woeful sales over the past half-decade, with 2007 being its best year with a meager 23,356 units sold. As it turns out, American luxury car buyers weren't ready for a boosted CUV with a stiff ride, limited cargo-hauling capabilities and lousy fuel economy.
While the first RDX was a box office flop, Acura feels like it has an appropriate sequel for the 2013 model year. Gone is that performance-oriented turbo-four that was so out of place. Honda's luxury arm has instead gone with the company's tried and true 3.5-liter V6, placed it in a new larger platform, and added a raft of much-needed refinement.
The 2013 RDX went under the knife in search of a softer shape, and what we see is a well-executed styling evolution that includes smoother lines, a more distinct greenhouse profile and more palatable mug shot. Acura designers streamlined the front end of the RDX with a new grille that loses the chunky proportions of the outgoing model. The fog lamp housings have also been transformed, with over-the-top brightwork replaced by understated simplicity. The headlight assemblies have also been re-imagined, now tapering off into the front wheel wells. Out back the D-pillar is a bit more pronounced as it tapers off toward the beltline. The taillights have also been tweaked, losing their demonic hawk eyes in favor of assemblies that better match the headlights.
What we see is a well-executed styling evolution.
The RDX definitely looks more grown-up on the outside, and similar progress takes place within the cabin. The previous model featured a more compartmentalized dash, but the 2013 receives a total makeover with flowing lines that taper off into the center instrument panel. The dash continues to feature soft-touch materials, but faux nickel accents have been added to provide more visual appeal. The steering wheel is mostly unchanged, with a great, leathery grip and multitude of buttons. The gauge cluster also has been reworked, swapping out individual housings for each gauge for a centrally enclosed area with an LED display resting in the middle. Another big change is a new housing for the 8.5-inch LCD screen, which now rests higher and settles deeper into its own cove. We really liked this modification since it blocks out sunlight and makes the screen much easier to read.
The RDX also scores points for its very comfortable front seats, which offer useful side bolstering and terrific thigh support. The back seats offer plenty of real estate as well, with 38.3 inches of legroom. That number compares favorably to the BMW X3 (36.8 cubic inches) and blows away the similarly sized Infiniti EX (28.5 cubic inches). The RDX manages a cargo draw when compared to the Audi Q5, with 26.1 cubic feet of space behind the second row seats and 61.3 cubes when they're folded flat. The Q5 wins with 29.1 cubic feet when the second row seat are upright but comes up short with 57.3 cubic feet when they're stowed. It's worth noting that the second row seat of the RDX doesn't fold completely flat, which can be a problem when sliding larger items in through the hatch.
This Silver Moon tester tipped the fiscal scales at $40,315 including an $895 destination charge.
Our positive impression of the RDX's interior was aided by the fact that our model is completely loaded. This Silver Moon tester tipped the fiscal scales at $40,315 including an $895 destination charge. Acura deserves credit for streamlining the ordering process while also providing a slew of standard features right out of the gate. This RDX arrived with all-wheel drive ($1,400 option) and the Technology Package ($3,700), or essentially every option that this Acura offers. The tech adds ELS Surround Sound, navigation with voice commands, solar-sensing climate control, High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps and a very clear and easy-to-utilize multi-view rear camera. Each RDX also comes standard with a 10-way power driver's seat, moonroof, leather seating surfaces, Bluetooth, USB and more.
As mentioned earlier, one change for 2013 that will likely break a few enthusiasts' hearts is the loss of the turbocharged 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine in favor of Honda's excellent 3.5-liter V6. (Click here to read more about why Honda killed this engine.) Worry not, we say, because the 273-horsepower V6 offers 33 more horsepower and its 251 pound-feet of torque is within nine lb-ft of the boosted four. The big six feels very powerful and refined, with excellent off-the-line acceleration and prodigious passing power on the highway. The new six-speed automatic transmission is glass-smooth with its seamless shifts, and paddle shifters are available on the steering wheel for the DIY crowd. We're not always proponents of combining paddles with traditional automatics, but in this case the shifts are reasonably fast and the paddles fun to use.
It helps that the 2013 model is 93 pounds lighter than the last RDX; an impressive number considering the addition of the 3.5-liter V6.
Acura has also put a lot of work into the RDX's chassis to smooth out the rough ride that characterized the last-generation model, which makes sense given that U.S. buyers' in this segment typically demand comfort over performance. Since the MacPherson struts and multi-link rear suspension are carryover, the big change is Acura's Amplitude Reactive Dampers. The dampers are 15-percent softer, yet at the same time offer increased structural rigidity and reduced body-roll. We felt the difference on the street, as bumps and potholes were far less perturbing to our kidneys, and at the same time, this crossover still doesn't mind being tossed around. It helps that the 2013 model is 93 pounds lighter than the last RDX; an impressive number considering the addition of the 3.5-liter V6. It helps that Acura opted for attractive 18-inch wheels mated to 235/60R Michelin rubber, instead of going with heavier and costlier 19s or 20s.
One source of disappointment is the loss of Acura's dynamic SH-AWD. That system could route 70 percent of the engine's power to the rear wheels, while the new, simpler on-demand setup can only manage a 50/50 power split. Steering feel has also been dumbed down a bit, as this new electronic unit feels numb and light compared to the old model's hydraulic steering.
Both the steering and the Honda CR-V-sourced AWD system aren't as engaging as we'd like, but those new additions to the RDX help improve fuel efficiency greatly. The 2013 AWD RDX boasts EPA-estimated fuel economy of 19 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. Despite firing on two fewer cylinders, the 2012 model managed only 17/22, giving the new RDX a substantial advantage. And those numbers translate into terrific real-world fuel economy, as we managed an impressive 24.2 mpg in mixed driving.
The 2013 Acura RDX does succeed where the last-generation model failed.
In the end, the "mainstreaming" of Acura's RDX means the succeeds where it once failed. It is now more refined and more comfortable, while continuing to offer plenty of get up and go. Some will miss the edgier dynamic handling of the last model, but far more will likely appreciate this kinder, gentler RDX. Best of all, the RDX now delivers sedan-like fuel economy with improved aesthetics and a more user-friendly interior, all of which should translate into the only thing that really matters to Acura: more sales.
New Car Test Drive
Smooth and efficient V6 with 6-speed automatic.
For 2013, Acura introduced the second generation of its smallest SUV. Considered all-new for 2013, the RDX was a bit bigger and heavier than before. Most notably, a 3.5-liter V6 engine replaced the original RDX's turbocharged 4-cylinder. The redesigned model was considerably more powerful, nearly as nimble, and significantly more fuel-efficient. Clearly, it was a win-win-win deal.
Except for one new body-color choice, the Acura RDX is unchanged for the 2014 model year. Acura's 3.5-liter V6 engine makes 273 horsepower, mating with a 6-speed automatic transmission (which incorporates manual control). The engine and transmission are both so smooth, they feel flawless. Fuel mileage is an EPA-estimated 20/28 mpg City/Highway, for an EPA Combined 23 miles per gallon with front-wheel drive.
All-wheel drive is available as an option. Simpler and lighter than Acura's SH-AWD setup, which is used in other models, the RDX's AWD system is designed for greater fuel mileage. In about 400 miles of driving in our RDX AWD, mostly at 72 mph on the freeway but with some hilly city runs, we averaged 21.6 mpg. The EPA rates the 2014 RDX AWD at 19/27 mpg City/Highway.
The sheetmetal was reshaped for 2013 to be sleek and aerodynamic, looking more like the larger Acura MDX. The hood is longer and sculpted than in the first generation, the grille tidier, sides cleaner, and roofline way more elegant. The wheelbase is 1.4 inches longer than the pre-2013 RDX and the track (distance between left and right wheels) was widened a bit. Handling remains taut and precise. The center of gravity is lower than in the original RDX, despite the roof being 1 inch higher.
The suspension was thoroughly redesigned on the 2013 RDX, with 18-inch wheels standard. Acura engineers in Japan worked hard to make the second-generation RDX ride and handle well, and it does: maybe even better than the smaller and sportier 2012 RDX.
Steering technology in the ILX broke new ground, with what Acura calls Motion Adaptive Electric Power Steering, which goes to the next step beyond speed-sensitive power steering. It increases or reduces the amount of effort needed to turn the wheel in either direction, based on the same sort of traction measurements that stability-control sensors receive. By instantaneously weighting the steering wheel, the system makes it harder for the driver to over-correct.
Acura's RDX suspension also features something called Amplitude Reactive Dampers: sophisticated shock absorbers designed to offer the best of all worlds. They got most of the worlds, but the dampers transmitted too many sharp bumps to our spine.
The 2014 Acura RDX interior has sweeping lines and uses rich materials. It's very quiet in the cabin; over harsh freeway surfaces in particular, you can't hear the tire buzz thanks to ample sound-deadening materials. Door openings are large, and the rear seats fold down with one touch. Leather seating surfaces are standard, along with heated front seats, a power moonroof, 360-watt audio system, and Multi-Angle rearview camera. Keyless Access with pushbutton start is standard, along with an Active Noise Control system. An optional Technology Package has all the tricks, including a power liftgate and HID (high-intensity-discharge) headlamps.
Competitors for the Acura RDX, which is manufactured in Ohio, include the BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class.
The 2014 Acura RDX comes in just two models: RDX front-wheel drive ($34,520) and RDX all-wheel drive ($35,920). Either way, RDX is powered by a 3.5-liter V6, driving a 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters.
Standard equipment includes leather-trimmed sport seats, satellite radio, driver's 10-way power seat, heated front seats and sideview mirrors, Bluetooth, remote entry, power moonroof, and 18-inch alloy wheels. The optional Technology Package ($3,700) adds navigation with voice recognition, real-time traffic with rerouting, dual zone climate control, ELS premier sound system, 60GB hard drive, power liftgate, projector beam HID headlamps, and foglamps.
Safety equipment on all models includes six airbags, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes with brake distribution and brake assist, and tire pressure monitor. Optional all-wheel drive can improve handling stability in slippery conditions.
For the 2013 redesign, Acura said the RDX went from looking sporty to more formal, elegant and sophisticated. We confess that we doubted that claim, until we looked at photos side-by-side. Styling changes to SUVs that we see every day aren't the kinds of alterations that register. But sure enough, it's all true. It's still a medium-sized Acura SUV in your mind (though technically it's a compact), like all the others you've known; but the sheetmetal is indeed more elegant and sophisticated.
The hood on the 2014 Acura RDX appears long, extending downward to an arc before the grille begins with a touch of black mesh over the wide band of wing-shaped silver, which is Acura's hallmark emblem. Not just Acura, but other carmakers have backed away from the in-your-face grilles of recent years (e.g., Mazda3 toning down its big dopey grin). Below the grille, the front fascia is clean, stylish, and aerodynamic, rounded at the edges, with sleek, sharp, exotic-eye headlamps and two tidy trapezoidal air intakes at the bottom corners.
Blocky round fender flares remain from the original RDX, but the sides are sculpted cleanly, with rounded rockers instead of cladding. Mirrors improved their looks by losing an edge. Most notably, the roofline and window outline is, yes, elegant, reminiscent of the Lexus RX 350. Tinted door glass is installed. The lines on the 2014 RDX make the old RDX look like its square roof was just slapped on.
At the rear, the changes for 2013 were slight but effective, with sharp horizontal edges removed, again to bring a more formal look. Smooth downward diagonal edges make the back look less blocky.
The 2013 RDX grew 2.8 inches in overall length, half that amount in wheelbase, and stood 1 inch taller. Rear legroom increased by 0.6 inch, the cargo area expanded by 0.7 cubic feet, and the second-generation RDX was 100 pounds lighter.
The interior of the 2014 RDX matches the exterior, with sweeping lines. Analog gauges and graphics are clean and beautiful, high contrast in white and LED backlit at night. The front doors open wider than in the original RDX, and the center console is larger, with a sizable 8.2 liters of space (5.6 liters in the glovebox).
We spent a week in the RDX, and found it to be sweetly quiet over all pavement and at all speeds, a result of attention and insulation. We also especially liked the lighting that brightens and dims progressively. Switches are illuminated in the dark, including the switches on all four doors. The RDX features theater dimming set by the driver to any of three levels.
Acura's leather seats are always clean, classy, and smooth, and the RDX is now all Acura. They fit well, with good ergonomics and bolstering, which is helpful because Acuras corner well and can be driven with spirit. The driver's seat has two-way adjustable lumbar support. We ran a hard 200 miles in the rain, and the seats got an A for comfort and support.
However, the navigation and radio, part of the Technology Package, don't come close to an A. The navigation system was consistently inaccurate and hopeless with voice recognition (although, after our passenger repeatedly fooled with it while we were driving, the system did manage to find the nearest Big 5 sporting goods store). In addition, the radio was difficult to tune, taking time and concentration off the road. It made us long for the simplicity, accuracy and clarity of, say, the Volkswagen Tiguan.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel holds audio and cruise controls on its three spokes, as well as a button for the Multi-Information Display, along with navigation, voice recognition and more. Controls for standard Bluetooth are on the lower left corner of the steering wheel.
The MID information window is located on the face of the speedometer, and shows temperature, odometer, average mpg, instantaneous mpg, range, tire pressure, average speed and elapsed time. We use range, or distance to empty, the most, and like many information displays (exceptions include the VW Tiguan), we think it takes too many clicks to find it on the RDX. It's still better than the 2010 Acura ZDX, which was like falling into Alice's rabbit hole to try and determine how many miles to go before empty.
Like a growing number of cars, the RDX features a one-touch turn signal system for lane changes. When the driver moves the lever just a touch, the turn signals flash three times.
The rearview camera is viewed on the 5-inch LCD display on the center stack. Solid yellow guidelines indicate the vehicle's width, but we found them to be unclear and weren't willing to depend on them if scraping a fender was a possibility.
With the Technology Package installed, you get an 8-inch display with three rearview camera angles: normal 130 degrees, wide-angle 175 degrees, and downward at the rear bumper for close parking or backing up to a trailer. Also included is a 360-watt 7-speaker audio system, with the works.
At the rear, the door openings are wide for easy access, and back-seat legroom is an okay 38.3 inches. The 60/40 rear seats drop nicely with one touch, as they all should but don't. With the seats down there's 76.9 cubic feet of cargo space, plus best-in-class total interior volume. The power rear hatch is 48.8 inches wide, expanded by 6.5 inches for the second generation.
If dual-zone climate control isn't enough, the Technology Package offers a GPS-linked, solar-sensing, automatic climate control system. The nav system determines the position of the sun and, using the solar sensor on the dashboard, the climate control automatically adjusts the heating and cooling inputs, fan speed, and vent position from side to side, to compensate for asymmetrical solar heating and maintain the set cabin temperatures. All we can say is: whew. Kind of like having your own house robot to draw the blinds and open the windows for you when it's too sunny in the room. We're fine with the standard dual-zone automatic climate control.
The Technology Package also includes an internet radio interface and an SMS text messaging feature that works with certain phones and plans. It can read incoming texts aloud over the audio system, and allow the driver to reply without touching his or her phone, with one of six messages: Talk to you later, I'm driving; I'm on my way; I'm running late; OK; Yes; No. We'll resist the temptation to suggest more messages.
The 2014 Acura RDX is smooth, stable and comfortable 99 percent of the time; but when you hit sharp bumps they're transmitted through that nice bucket seat. It's a shame the ride delivers jolts, because otherwise it's all good. We also tested a larger Acura MDX, which was better, but still had traces of the jolt. This appears to be how Acura sets up their SUV suspensions.
Acura has flip-flopped with the current RDX, by using a 3.5-liter V6 while abandoning the 2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that was in the RDX when it first came out in 2007. Back then, Acura pioneered V6-level power with 4-cylinder fuel mileage; ironically, today, Ford follows that path with the twin-turbo EcoBoost 4-cylinder in the Escape.
The RDX V6 makes 273 horsepower. Rated at an EPA-estimated 20/28 mpg with front-wheel drive, 19/27 with all-wheel-drive, it produces plenty of smooth acceleration. It's a 60-degree single-overhead-camshaft design with 24 valves, actuated by iVTEC, or intelligent Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control. The engine has an aluminum block and heads, with iron cylinder liners.
In addition to 33 more horsepower than the predecessor engine, the V6 brings better fuel mileage, gaining 3 city/6 highway mpg over the earlier turbo four. Fuel economy is boosted by the 6-speed automatic transmission with a tall sixth gear, and the Variable Cylinder Management system, which uses 3, 4, or 6 cylinders depending on need. It's totally invisible; we never once felt it. We got 21.6 miles per gallon, running mostly on the freeway with our all-wheel-drive model, which is EPA-rated at a Combined 22 mpg.
If the previous RDX handled almost like a sports car, the all-new RDX still handles really well. It's accessible to more buyers, without the aggressive sportiness of the turbo four. The all-wheel drive enhances cornering by moving torque to the rear wheels when needed, although it's not Acura's SH-AWD (super handling all-wheel drive) as used in the TL.
Motion Adaptive Electric Power Steering is the next step in electronic controls. Sensors detect understeer or oversteer, and the stability control does its thing by braking an appropriate wheel. But next, if the driver is turning the steering wheel too much in one direction or the other, the weight of the steering is increased by reducing the electric assist to the power steering, making it harder for the driver to continue his or her imperfect pursuit of control.
The 6-speed automatic transmission is as smooth as the engine. There are two automatic modes, plus Sequential SportShift with well-designed paddles. The first five gears are relatively short, for sharp acceleration; sixth gear is tall, for lower rpm at freeway speeds and thus better highway fuel mileage. The transmission has all the latest technology, including a multi-clutch lock-up torque converter, Grade Logic Control, Shift Hold Control and Cornering G Shift Control. None of those little brains in the transmission intruded, during the time we had the car.
For Acura lovers, the V6 RDX is perfect. It combines Acura's best engineering technology and efficiency with responsive handling, a traditional silky powertrain with 6-speed automatic, clear gauges, classy leather, class-leading interior volume, and easy seat flop for cargo. Fuel mileage is so-so at 22 or 23 mpg combined, base price around $35k ain't hay, and sharp bumps ain't fun.
Sam Moses filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the Acura RDX in the Pacific Northwest.
Acura RDX FWD ($34,520); RDX AWD ($35,920); RDX FWD Tech Package ($38,220); RDX AWD Tech Package ($39,620).
Options As Tested
Technology Package, including navigation with voice recognition, multi-view rear camera, ELS 10-speaker surround-sound system, power liftgate, HID headlamps, foglamps.
Acura RDX AWD Technology Package SX Special Edition ($39,420).
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